The streak is broken
The Toronto Maple Leafs opened their season with an offensive onslaught, scoring 15 goals in their first week of play. After picking up a 4-3 overtime win over Chicago on Oct. 9, the Leafs had a league-leading 19 goals in just three games.
Then they hit a wall.
OCT. 11: TORONTO V. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
That wall’s name was Cory Schneider.
Although the Leafs’ peppered him with a total of 50 shots on the night, the New Jersey Devils’ goalie was virtually impenetrable in net, stopping 47 of those attempts.
The Leafs opened up the scoring in the first period with a power play goal by James van Riemsdyk, his third of the season. But New Jersey shot back 34 seconds later to tie the game (Miles Wood) and less than two minutes after that to take the lead (Wood again).
Toronto’s Dominc Moore tied it up late in the opener, scoring his second of the season, and the first period ended in a 2-2 tie.
Penalties hurt the Leafs in the second period, with New Jersey scoring the go-ahead goal (Pavel Zacha) while van Riemsdyk sat in the box for slashing.
As has been a pattern for the Leafs, their defense faltered in the middle of the game. Although Toronto had a chance to even up the score when the Devils were serving two minor penalties, New Jersey instead potted a shorthanded goal (Brian Gibbons). So much for Toronto’s two-man advantage.
But the Leafs’ inability to score wasn’t for lack of trying. The Buds’ offense was stalled only by Schneider’s masterful performance as he turned away what would’ve been sure goals against lesser net-minders. The Leafs continued to hammer away at him, but they could muster no more goals against New Jersey in the second despite several more chances on the power play.
Luck was also on the side of the Devils on this night as Nazem Kadri came close to scoring early in the third, instead hitting the post. New Jersey scored shortly after that (Blake Coleman) to garner a three-goal lead on the Leafs.
Auston Matthews made it 5-3 on a Leafs’ power play, his third goal of the season, but that’s all the Leafs could muster against Schneider. The Buds fired 20 shots at the New Jersey net-minder in the third period alone, for a total of 50 overall, but he was just too good. The Devils scored once more (Zacha again) to hand the Leafs a 6-3 loss, their first loss of the season.
OCT. 14: TORONTO V. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Leafs Nation was both hyped and a little nervous as the Buds prepared to take on Carey Price and the Canadiens in Montreal on Saturday night.
There’s always an extra bit of excitement when these two division rivals meet. But coming off a loss two nights earlier, the Leafs faced another excellent goalie in Price, playing to his home crowd, not to mention a 14-game losing streak against the hated Habs, so emotions were high.
Despite their terrible start this season, the Canadiens always play a little harder when they meet Toronto and tonight was no exception.
The Habs opened up the scoring early with a goal (Jeff Petry) on a screen shot in the first two minutes of play. Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen didn’t really have a chance on that one, but he made several key saves as Montreal kept pressing in the top half of the first period.
The Leafs tied it up on a goal by van Riemsdyk, who hass been stellar with four goals so far this season.
Minutes later, Matthews put Toronto ahead 2-1 with his fourth goal of the season, an absolute beauty. Picking up a pass from Andersen in the Leafs’ zone, Matthews flew up the ice, out-skating and out-maneuvering all five Habs and beating the Montreal net-minder before he even had a chance to react.
Leafs Nation thanks the Hockey Gods every day for Auston Matthews and on this night, fans are breathing a big sigh of relief. Carey Price is good, but he’s no Cory Schneider…
The Habs get one back on a power play (Alex Galchenyuk) after the Leafs fail to clear the puck in their zone and the first period ended in a 2-2 tie.
The Leafs opened up the scoring in the third — or so they thought — but the goal is waved off after it’s ruled that Matthews put the puck past Price with a high stick. Perhaps, but what really riled Leafs fans (and Yours Truly) was the official’s emphatic and prolonged waving of the hands. We get it; no goal. But, really, could he be any more annoying? Both No. 34 and I thought not. As I tweeted shortly afterwards: “Matthews looks pissed. He will actually score now.”
OK, Matthews didn’t score right then, Montreal did (Jonathan Drouin) to take the lead with 8:27 left in the second, but remember what I said…
Minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored for the Leafs, but his goal was also waved off and Leafs Nation smelled a conspiracy. The puck looked like it had crossed the line. And Marleau had his arms up, celebrating. It was a goal. It was obvious to everyone but the official who claimed no goal. At that point, I tweeted emphatically: “That IS a goal!” (So, of course, it must be.) Upon video review, the goal is deemed good and a Leafs Nation revolt is averted. (Despite Montreal’s raucous crowd, there were a lot of Toronto fans in attendance and they could be clearly heard cheering on their Buds.)
The goal was the third of the season for the veteran Marleau, who has been a brilliant addition to this young Toronto team.
The second period ended with the game tied 3-3.
It was a roller-coaster ride for Leafs Nation during the first 40 minutes of play, but the momentum was clearly on Toronto’s side now and they could feel it.
Montreal came out hard in the third period, trying to regain the momentum it had lost earlier, but Toronto held its ground. Andersen was the harder-working goaltender in the last regulation period of play, turning away 13 shots to Price’s six. The teams were stalled at three goals a piece after 60 minutes of play.
The Leafs headed to their second overtime in less than a week and, once again, they did not disappoint.
Three-on-three hockey is exciting to watch, but it can also take a toll on fans’ hearts. Mercifully, Leafs Nation didn’t have to wait very long — a mere 48 seconds — before relief came. Prior to that, we all held our breaths as Matthews and line mate William Nylander, along with defender Jake Gardiner, traded turns at each end of the rink with Montreal.
Then Nylander stole the puck after a brilliant back check and sped toward the Montreal goal with Matthews on a two-on-one rush. The pass was perfect and Matthews didn’t hesitate to fire it quickly past a bewildered Price for the 4-3 win. It was Matthews’ second overtime goal in five days, giving him a total of five goals in five games. Best of all, it ended Montreal’s 14-game winning streak against Toronto and broke the curse.
This could only mean one thing: The Leafs are going to win the Stanley Cup.
Photo Credits: Graham Hughes